Indianapolis — The Detroit Lions don't have a glaring need for an off-the-ball linebacker. The team could go into the 2019 season with former first-round pick Jarrad Davis and reliable veteran Christian Jones as the starters and be fine.
But that doesn't mean the position can't be upgraded. And that's a decision the Lions could face if LSU's Devin White is still on the board when Detroit is on the clock at No. 8 in the NFL draft.
White met with the Lions at the scouting combine last week. It was his first formal interview with a team and it went great, according to the prospect.
"When I went in there, I had to see what was really going on because I was getting tossed the marker," White said. "They put me on the board as soon as I got in there, trying to see where my head was at.
"They knew who Coach (Dave) Aranda was and they knew his philosophy. They told me, 'I know y’all like to run under front defense, so draw an under front and tell me what everybody is doing.' I got up there and did it because I’m the mike linebacker and that’s the easiest thing to do, is to draw the defense because I know what everybody’s doing. It was a great meeting. I really got to impress them on the board, showing them Coach Aranda prepared me beyond well and for this moment right here."
Over the weekend, White showed the Lions and the rest of the league something else — his elite athleticism.
His 4.42-second time in the 40 was the fastest for any linebacker. He also posted above-average marks in the vertical jump, 3-cone drill and the 20-yard short shuttle.
"Going to the next level, I know a big fault in the NFL is linebackers not being so athletic," White said. "And nowadays, tight ends are getting more athletic and they’re able to be used more (as versatile players) in the offensive schemes. I’m a guy that can play inside, or if we’re having trouble with a tight end in our zone coverage, you know, catching a lot of balls, you’re going to stick Devin White on him and he’ll go stop him."
Given the combine is a job interview with 32 prospective employers, the participating players tend to be complimentary about any potential landing spot. For example, White raved about the opportunity to play in Denver, where he could enjoy being freed up by the attention focused on pass rushers Bradley Chubb and Von Miller. White also mused about playing in an all-LSU corps in Tampa Bay with Kwon Alexander and Kendell Beckwith.
When asked about Detroit, and pairing with Davis, White had nothing but good things to say about his former SEC rival.
"I watched him a lot in college," White said. "Man, he played through injury, he did everything for the Florida Gators. Man, I was a big fan. He got a YouTube video that I used to watch before a couple of my games, and just watched the passion that he played with. So just letting us roam that middle at the same (time), that’s another great linebacker with an up-and-coming great linebacker, so I feel like we’ll play exceptionally well, too."
White only saw one problem: Davis has his No. 40.
"Hey, if they want to get me, I’m willing to go and I’m willing to put the work in," White said. "But he’s going to have to give me that number, though.”
The Lions also would face some conundrums. First, who plays in the middle and has the headset communication to the sidelines? Both players are passionate, on-field leaders who covet those responsibilities.
Second, Lions general manager Bob Quinn has stated and shown a preference for getting bigger at the position for coach Matt Patricia's scheme. Is White's athleticism transcendent enough to work in the 6-foot, 237-pound speedster?
Adding White would also make keeping Jones a luxury. The veteran, who was steady in his debut season with the Lions, carries a $4.2 million cap hit and releasing him would free $3.3 million in space.
But if the Lions did draft White, the ceiling of the pairing with Davis is tantalizing. Under the stewardship of Patricia — who has a proclaimed affinity for the position and coached multiple stars in New England — the two could look to become a modern day Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, who combined for six first-team All-Pro selections with the 49ers from 2011-15.